Author: Andrea Cremer
Genre: YA Fiction, Supernatural/Paranormal
Publication Date: 2010
Purchase Price: $18.00 (hardcover)
I’ve had Nightshade on my TBR list for some time — but because my local library is woefully inadequate, I could only get my hands on the audio book. It’s not that I don’t like audio books—they’re great on long car trips, as I discovered—but I hate listening to them at home. I have to be sitting still to stay focused, and doing so anywhere but in a car is a bit of a trial for me.
So I listened to Rebecca Lowman read Nightshade — for 12 freaking hours. A book that I could have read myself in less than a day stretched over a week. This becomes important later on. In the meantime, some thoughts.
Just off the mark
Okay, let’s be honest for a minute: this entire genre of paranormal, supernatural, vampires and werewolves and forbidden love, yadda yadda yadda — it’s crap. Fancy and entertaining, yes, but crap nonetheless.
People like to blame Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight series for kicking off the downward spiral into mindlessness, but that’s a bit shortsighted. People have always been obsessed with monsters, vampires, werewolves, the occult, and all things beyond our understanding or explaining; Meyer just packaged it for teens.
While I enjoyed Nightshade for the most part, I think I’m just outside the target market. If I were a bit younger, I probably would have been swooning all over the place. As it is, I’m just jaded enough to do an excessive amount of eye rolling. At one point my notes consisted of bullet points:
- Her mom is the most annoying person ever.
- I’ve lost count of the uses of the words “my body” and “his body.”
- I wish people would stop asking Calla if she’s okay!
Notes on audio
12 hours seemed like a long time, especially when the only parts the narrator seemed to linger on was all the drippy/sexual stuff. I wanted to hear less about the love triangle and more about Keepers, Seekers, and Guardians. At one point I almost stopped listening, convinced that there was no more to the plot than romance and sexual tension.
Cremer would have done well to introduce the mystery sooner, although she does a good job of feeding you tantalizing pieces of the puzzle. As far as halfway through, I wasn’t planning on reading the sequel, Wolfsbane, but now I think I’ll have to, just so I can know how and if the characters find the answers for which they’re looking.
I was able to enjoy the mystery aspect more than I would have had I read the book, though. Normally I can skim to the next page, or (horror of horrors) flip to the back page. But with the audio I was unable to skim or skip, and I think that helped me stay more in the story as it happened. On the down side, though, I was unable to skip through all the drippy romance stuff for fear of missing a detail that was important to the larger story.
One awesome moment
Despite the creepy, sexually possessive vibes most of the male characters seem to have, throughout Nightshade there are some moments of pure feminist genius. While Calla’s mother is overly obsessed with ensuring that her daughter remains “a lady,” and everyone else seems way too interested in making sure Calla stays “pure,” Calla hits the nail on the head:
“As if I want to be a lady. All it means is that I have to pretend I don’t feel anything but a sense of duty.”
I think that statement is just as relevant now as it was 50 years ago, or even 100 or 200.
I wish that Nightshade played less into the stereotypes: possessive, jealous men; sexual possession; the idea that such themes should be presented in a way to titillate readers.
Instead, there should have been more focus on the mystery, the secrets that the Keepers have kept. It’s the mystery and the need to know what happens that, for me anyway, made the cringe-worthy “teen romance” aspects bearable.
“I fought off the desire to snatch the pen and start a game of keep away.”
“If you’re a real student of literature, and I mean the good stuff—Chaucer, Shakespeare—you figure out that only souls who truly reflect each other make good love matches. If they can find each other, that is.”
What do you think of supernatural/paranormal YA fiction? Are the female characters strong and empowering, or do they play into the same old stereotypes?
10 thoughts on ““Calla Tor has always known her destiny…””
I love YA, paranormal/etc. lit, but I get so very annoyed by stereotypes and weak female characters (which are rather common). I have this one on the TBR shelf, but I haven’t had the desire to pick it up yet. Someday…
Of all the books in my TBR list, I really wish I had been able to get this one in book form. That way I could have skimmed the angsty teenager parts, and the sexually creepy adult parts, and the stereotypical blech that was sprinkled liberally throughout. I really enjoyed the mystery aspect of it all, as well as the history of the world that Cremer has created. I’ll probably read the rest of the series, but I’ll probably set my reading firmly to “skim” and just read the parts I like.
I finished two books yesterday: Amaryllis in Blueberry and Sophie Kinsella’s Can You Keep a Secret. I can definitely see why people are in love with Kinsella’s book…they’re like cold, frothy frappaccinos (sp?) lots of fluff and not a lot of substance, but very very tasty. The heroine made me want to smack her because she seems like such a ditz! I’m so tired of seeing these little ninnies that are supposed to represent us. In the end, she grew a little, but sheesh. On the other hand, we get a more feminist book with but one of the central females is such a b*tch. is there a middle ground?! I’m tired of seeing one or the other. i imagine it’s the same with paranormal romance. the only paranormals i’ve read are “linger” the “immortal instruments” books and twilight. it seems there is always a triangle. as if the world is a lovely place only if two men are fighting over you…very interesting…of course, that is the case with a lot of women’s fiction as well….ok.
ok, enough of the rambling.
but what are we teaching girls? that they’re only worthy if a man or two want them?
that it’s ok if a man is controlling because that means he loves you so much he can’t control his own impulses?
My psychology professors would have a field day with this entire genre; I have a love-hate relationship with it. I don’t know if I should enjoy books like Nightshade as the fluff they’re supposed to be, or rail against the fact that teen girls are reading it and perhaps thinking that that’s how it’s supposed to be.
I don’t think I would consider Calla a feminist character. I prefer Katsa (from Cashore’s Graceling) and Yelena (from Snyder’s Poison Study, which I just finished yesterday).
I imagine that to teenage girls, the idea of having two equally handsome men fighting over you is appealing. Yet the reader sees the anguish that all three of the characters go through — it doesn’t sound like a pleasant experience to me.
The dichotomy you’re talking about seems to hold true in paranormal YA, Jenny — at least in Nightshade. There’s lots of “fainting flowers,” as my mother calls them. Which makes me sad — I want to read about more “steel magnolias.” (I love Southern sayings.)
One thing I did enjoy about Nightshade is that it at least tries to present something other than a heterosexual relationship. Which is awesome, but I hated that a certain character’s homosexuality ends up making them a victim.
There are very few instances of strong females in Nightshade. And if it’s a strong female, she’s inevitably a “bad guy,” or is consistently overshadowed by a male or males.
In fact, the more I think about it, the more I consider placing this book firmly within the “didn’t like” section.
Hey Amy…hope your day is going well.
I have to say, your post this morning really gave me a little jolt. I was thinking and thinking about the books I read this weekend, that stupid Blair Witch movie, your post, and then lo and behold another post on Booktrib.
So anyway, I wrote a post myself and linked your blog. Hope you don’t mind. 🙂
Of course I don’t mind! I think it’s fabulous! 😀 (I’m literally squee’ing. I told Best Friend that someone talked about my post in their post, and he nodded and smiled with that look of, “Oh, you strange girl.” I love when he gives me that look.)
I think that this whole topic is something that’s never really far from bloggers’ minds. From what I’ve seen, a large majority of female book bloggers identify as female. And since we’re the ones doing a lot of book reading and book buying, it’s really frustrating to see the same tired stereotypes being dragged out again and again.
Not only are females often cast as the damsels in distress; the males are portrayed as either uber-masculine or bumbling and inept. Or as sexual predators. Not sure which is the worst stereotype.
I’m glad it inspired you to write. I’ll probably be inspired at some point too, but it’s 5:30pm on a Monday and I just can’t expend any more brain power. 🙂
I love your review – it seems like people are falling all over themselves to praise Nightshade and its feminist themes and strong heroine, and I’m finding that the more I think about it, the less feminist it becomes. I mean, Calla does have all the requisite “feminist” thoughts, like the one you quoted, but she falls into the Mercy Thompson trap of not following through on them. Even after the scene that you describe, does she put the kibosh on her mother’s attempt to sexually objectify her? Nope, she does it because she’s told to.
The catalyst for the changes in her life come from a guy, her love interest, of course, who has to explain to her all the ways in which her world is wrong, things she has inklings of, but hasn’t done anything about because she hasn’t had a “reason” to. Naturally, her motivation for rebelling becomes said boyfriend, but her rebellion has limits, and she refuses to actually rail against the establishment *until* they put her boyfriend’s life in danger. The themes of bucking establishment and escaping oppression are so closely tied into the love triangle that in the end, Calla’s escape feels less like it’s about freedom or a desire to control her own destiny than it is wanting to be with one boy – or at the very least, preserve his life – over than the other. For me, it’s more or less Calla’s lack of agency *on her own behalf* that destroys any real feminist credibility :/
Blah, I’ve been wanting to get that rant out for a while ^^; anyway, great review!
Fantastic rant! 🙂 I’ve seen a couple reviews of this book more recently, and everyone was raving about how wonderful it was, and how they can’t wait to read the sequel. I can’t wait to not have to think about it anymore.
I think I have more sympathy for Calla that you do, although I agree with every point you make. It must be hard to act directly against what one has known their whole life, especially when doing so means your possible death. Having your world turned upside down can’t be easy, and so I understand Calla’s hesitance. But I don’t excuse it.
Nightshade also falls prey to the First Book Syndrome: there’s a lot of exposition that has to be got out of the way; the mystery itself has to be established, and there has to be enough to keep the reader interested all the way through the book while still keeping some back for the next. “Inklings” that something is wrong is about all there’s time for in the first book, and although I wish Calla could have come to those conclusions without a Hero Figure dragging her around, I hold out some hope that she’ll be able to redeem herself during the rest of the series. As she learns more about what’s going on, maybe she’ll develop a spine of her own.
I’d like to think that maybe she ends up being her own rescuer, but the genre doesn’t usually work that way. There will probably be a lot more angst, a lot more creepiness on the part of male figures, and a daring rescue or two in which Calla gets knocked unconscious in the first 10 seconds.
Thanks so much for your thoughtful comments, Cyna. I love talking about this kind of stuff, and wish I had more time to do it.
Ha, I know what you mean. I’m just finishing up my review tonight. Been working on it for days and I don’t want to think about it anymore lol. I don’t necessarily lack sympathy for Calla, I just have an objection to Nightshade being praised for having a “strong” heroine. I can understand her not saying anything, and I don’t think her confusion or reluctance or division is a necessarily a bad or wrong thing, if she comes out of Nightshade swinging. Like you, I’m hoping – generally expecting, really – her to be stronger in Wolfsbane and Bloodrose. I’m sure she’ll end up being Werewolf Moses. But I never felt that Calla came off as a strong heroine within Nightshade. I think a lot of people are confusing being put in a leadership position and having a sharp tongue for strength, and it’s really not the same thing.
Man, I wish there’d been more exposition, lol. Seemed like even the all-important first book set-up took a backseat to the making out and random shit happenings. Ah, well, hopefully the next one’ll be better.
NP! I like it as well, and it’s not often you find anyone really willing to say more about a book these days than “I liked it” and “he was dreamy”.
I wouldn’t characterize Calla as “strong,” and certainly not as a “feminist” character. At least not in this stage. Fortunately the author has two more books to turn Calla into something decent, and hopefully she got all the angsty/make-out junk out of the way early (we can only hope).
It’d be a great series if there was less fluff and more substance.
My reviews do sometimes lean toward the kind of thing to which you’re referring. Which is why I’ve stopped reviewing Georgette Heyer books — fandom is fun, but it makes for a pretty repetitive blog.